Career Magazine

How to Deal with a Critical Colleague Or Manager

Posted on the 12 June 2014 by Rebecca_sands @Rebecca_Sands

Meditating at work on Daily Inspiration Board

I am certain that you have met or worked with someone like this – whether directly or indirectly. Perhaps they were your boss, which is even worse than a critical colleague. This type of person continually criticises others either overtly or covertly. Often the criticisms are quite backhanded, and can appear more as patronising, sly comments than someone actually coming right out and being critical. Although sometimes, the criticism can be absolutely direct.

The behavior could be defined as someone saying something to you in a way that implies you’re of extremely low intelligence. It can also manifest as micro-management and picking at minor things on a daily basis. Sometimes the person in question is superior in rank to you, which means you usually do not feel at liberty to call them out on it. Or it could be that you are witnessing it happen to a colleague and you are watching as they slowly shrink into themselves further and further.

This type of criticism is generally not constructive, nor is it done with your best interests in mind. Unfortunately, it’s the type of behavior that can really deteriorate one’s self confidence over a period of time. It can then become a self-fulfilling prophecy, where you come to believe that you won’t ever be seen as good enough in that particular workplace no matter what you do or how perfect your work is. I’ve experienced this feeling, and it’s a very destructive place to be in.

There are a LOT of people like this in the field of PR and I’m sure it’s not just relegated to this industry. Particularly being someone ‘nice’ who takes pains to consider others’ feelings, I was often a target of this type of behavior early on in my career and it really affected my confidence levels. I couldn’t understand why these colleagues’ behavior was so patronising (in a covert manner) and I became terrified of making any tiny mistake or having a different opinion, because not only was the behavior accepted in the workplace but these employees were constantly praised. Aggressive and sometimes abusive behavior was not only tolerated but was often positioned as leadership-type behavior to be looked up to.

There’s a few things to know – and do – if you’re either experiencing this type of behavior or witnessing it in the workplace (as both can be demoralising – particularly if it is tolerated or if these people are rewarded).

Develop your confidence in other areas

Build your confidence in other areas of your life to ensure you have a solid platform in which to function from. This involves maintaining relationships, putting yourself first by keeping up to date with things like health and dentist appointments, treating yourself to monthly massages if you can, switching off from work after hours, eating lots of fresh produce, exercising regularly and ensuring you’re getting seven to eight hours’ sleep a night. A healthy body will encourage self-confidence and promote a healthier mindset, and you will be in a much better position to cope with the stresses that arise.

Taking care of ourselves can actually be the hardest step because when our confidence is diminished, we tend to cut ourselves off from all of the things in life that actually do us good. This can create a vicious cycle. Don’t underestimate the importance of wellbeing to your self-worth! After all, if you aren’t treating yourself well, others may not treat you well either.

Divert your attention from the heavy stuff

Don’t focus on, or anticipate, criticisms. This is also difficult, because as humans we tend to skip over good feelings and amplify the bad ones. The trick is to accept that the person criticising you is doing so for their own reasons, and usually people are threatened by what they see in you that is also in them. It’s often the case that they think they’re not good enough, so essentially they’re taking it out on you. The best leaders build you up and bring out your unique skills, not demoralise you over perceived weaknesses. And the best colleagues won’t be concerned with your work – they’ll be focused on their own outcomes, and willing to assist in yours!

Rather than turning up at work thinking about that person’s behaviour, focus on the positives. Who else can you work with that you feel more positively about? If that’s not possible, highlight to your boss some of your key achievements when possible. This is not being self-serving or self-centred – rather, it’s stating some facts and showing your confidence and assertiveness.

Don’t try to continually please – rather, focus on delivering good outcomes

People tend to know when they’ve gotten to you, and they will never be appeased – regardless of how often you strive to please them. Rather than trying to constantly make this person happy, focus on delivering good outcomes and flagging in advance where you think things may go wrong. Always under-promise and over-deliver on outcomes – if you under-deliver just so that you can promise the world, people will lose trust in you and will find more to criticize.

Generally, the person’s behavior has nothing to do with you – it’s usually all about them, and their fears.

Consider whether your unique skill set, talents and interests are right for the job

It’s worth considering whether you are right for the job. If your unique skill set doesn’t fit with what you are doing, this is something to be acknowledged. If you seriously dislike the work that you do – not just because of the people involved – then there is a larger issue at play. It may be the wrong business type or career strand for you – know that there are always many different work environments for what is perceived as the same career label. Alternatively, you may want to consider an entire career change. Just don’t do it because of the overly critical colleague – consider a career change if it’s right for you.

Next week, I will continue this topic by speaking with Char Weeks, Certified Executive Master Coach and a 
Member of the International Coaching Council with Change Champions, about how to manage a critical boss or colleague by speaking out – and how common this type of behavior actually is in the workplace. Watch out for the interview!

When have you experienced – or seen – this type of aggressive behavior in the workplace?

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